In the Fall of 2011, I was in the middle of my run as programmer at the Indy Film Fest, and my curation radar was on high alert. I was seeing more movies than most people see in a decade and no matter how many came my way, I was always looking for the next best one.
When I got the opportunity to head up to the Chicago International Film Festival with an Industry credential, I seized it, figuring I’d not only get a chance to spend a weekend home but see a few great films while there. I know I had to have seen at least half a dozen films in the two and a half days I was up there (I could only swing a weekend out of town), and yet I only remember one: MISS BALA.
I wasn’t even supposed to see it, but whatever film I was meant to be in had sold out, so my counterpart at CIFF found me a seat in MISS BALA. And I am the better for it. Two years later and here I am, still thinking about it from time to time, still talking it up to anyone who’ll listen (read).
A Mexican film, it follows a young woman with beauty queen aspirations who finds herself caught up in the messy, dangerous world of the drug mafia. What begins as a case wrong place, wrong time quickly devolves into Laura’s complete immersion into the drug trade and all the violence, fear and dirty money that comes with it. What I recall most about the film never made much of a splash beyond its festival run (though it remains critically acclaimed) is the honesty – it’s not a glossy film, it’s not an overdramatic film. It’s a film that seeks to expose and alarm by crafting in narrative form the reality of the Mexican drug wars at the time.
I can still remember the director at the Q&A following the film, the full house riveted to his every word. He spoke about his hopes for the film, and instead of admitting he pined for awards and box office recognition, he talked about how he hoped he could take the film to colleges and universities around the US. He hoped he could show the film and start a conversation about the joint the students were going to head back to the dorms and light up – to get through to them what an impact that seemingly innocuous act really has.
Though we’re a few years removed for it now (and it’s now available on Netflix, iTunes, et al), I imagine MISS BALA still packs the same punch it did when I saw it in Chicago.